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The ‘war’ at the heart of France’s ruling party

AFP | Arnaud Montebourg (left) and Manuel Valls

A row between Prime Minister Manuel Valls (right) and departing economy minister Arnaud Montebourg (left) has forced a reshuffle of France’s Socialist government. But some say it is only a preview of a bigger political clash to come.

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A day after Valls forced Montebourg to step down, France’s leading left- and right-wing dailies ran identical front page headlines: 'Regime Crisis'.

Le Figaro and Libération agreed that President François Hollade hit a new low in his tenure on Monday with Montebourg and two other high-profile ministers leaving the government.

And both newspapers also told their readers to expect an even bigger clash between Valls and Montebourg further down the road.

“A long war between these two men has just been declared. A war that will last three years and will culminate with the presidential campaign in 2017,” Le Figaro’s Guillaume Tabard wrote.

“[Montebourg] has gone home to launch his political workshop and has pencilled in the 2017 presidential race on his calendar,” mocked editor-in-chief Laurent Joffrin in Libération.

Two visions

Valls and Montebourg will both be 52 this year, and they share a fierce political ambition and streak of brashness.

But that is where the similarities end, as the pair incarnate opposite wings within France’s Socialist Party.

Montebourg, an outspoken critic of globalisation, has staked his claim on the far-left.

Valls, who supports a business-friendly approach, suggested in 2008 a complete overhaul of the Socialist Party that would have included tossing out its “outdated” name.

French editorialists said back in 2012 that the Socialist Party had failed to reconcile these different ideologies, and now in 2014 the president and the party are paying the price.

“All the differences that were ignored during the presidential election, that were swept under the rug, have now exploded in François Hollande’s face,” wrote columnist Françoise Fressoz in Le Monde. “And the absence of economic growth has been the spark.”

Hollande will have to put his government back together again, but the struggle for the soul of the party is no longer in his hands.

“The two men [Valls and Montebourg] started that debate in the 2011 primaries, but in secondary roles. They will continue it as the main protagonists,” Le Figaro’s Tabard said. “Valls and Montebourg have written the first chapter of the post-Holland story.”

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